As stated in my Pavement review, I suffer from considerable guilt over bands I should really be familiar with yet no little about. Sparklehorse are one of those bands. The first experience I had was of their collaboration with Danger Mouse and David Lynch (Dark Night of the Soul) which is one of my favourite albums of the last year. It seemed natural therefore to dip into the history of this band; sadly there will be no future as Mark Linkous tragically took his own life earlier this year.
Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot - by Sparklehorse
The album I chose as my introduction to Sparklehorse was there first from 1995. It is revered in American Indie circles and it was with lofty expectations that I approached listening. It was a distressing experience for me to discover the cover as I have a deep fear of clowns as a result of my caring if misguided father's decision to choose It as a family film when I was about eight. He went on to repeat the trick less than a decade later as we all sat down to American Psycho. My theory is he likes watching films on his own. Anyway I digress, the origin of Viva is an unusual one as it was recorded primarily by the band Cracker for whom Linkous was a guitar tech and occasional collaborator. From unorthodox beginnings has emerged a terrific album. I was anticipating a darker tone to the album as I didn't realise Linkous' overdose came after the release of Viva. The real strengths of this album are the way simple, quite old fashioned songs are delivered in a variety of styles; from stripped down, Wilcoesque backing on the incredibly charming love song Saturday to the rambling experimental interlude Little Bastard Choo Choo which wouldn't be out of place on the White Album. As a great lover of The Strokes I admire a band who refuse to make room for self-indulgence and the way in which songs are brought to a swift conclusion adds to the rhythm of the album. Personally the highlight of the album comes on the seventh track 'Most Beautiful Widow in Town.' The acoustic backing is minimal so as not to detract from the magnificent imagery of the tale of unrequited love which really made me sit up and take notice of why Linkous is so highly rated.
many years later
the glassy month of December
I stood with my hands in my pockets
trying to avoid
a shiny wedding portrait
hanging on that old woman's wall
'cos I knew you'd be wearing a smile
that'd be too painful to look upon
Maybe it is the theme that made me make the connection but 29 by Ryan Adams came to mind when listening. It would be wrong to identify Linkous as possessing a show-stopping or even unique voice but the delivery is tender and seems to invite the listener into his very private world meaning Linkous is a great communicator of emotion and as a result this is a great album. I look forward to discovering the rest of their back catalogue and it is a great thrill to embrace an artist who has influenced so many of those I adore. Listening to Viva is like listening to the roots of Willy Mason, Ryan Adams, Ben Gibbard and Ben Kweller and on that basis alone it could be destined to become one of my favourite albums.
8 1/2 out of 10